We all hailed the election of Barack Obama as a massive victory for Democracy. He rode in on the coattails of small givers, with very few, loosely associated big special interests. He did not take money from their lobbyists.
The problem now, for President Obama, is that none of them, Left or Right, are back-stopping him, and we, the people who elected him, are not doing much about it either.
Change requires bold vision. It also requires finding ways to co-opt enough of the well-lubricated political machines into playing along. Health care is a telling example of how not having money from these deep-pocket special interests works both ways when it comes to getting major legislation passed.
Obama got the AMA. Well, sort of. The organization likes change, but does not favor anything that might adversely affect doctor incomes. Slash paperwork? Simplify the billing systems? We're behind you, Mr. President. Cut the generous pay-outs that they negotiated into the Medicare system that are wasteful? It's Socialism, I tell you, Socialism.
Obama got the Liberal Left. Well, sort of. He talked up a public option, and channeled enthusiasm for a single-payer system into it, only to have to dance around the question when the public option looked to derail bringing aboard other critical special interests.
Obama didn't get the insurance lobbies, but they're sure getting him. They have used the idea of making insurance mandatory as a kind of land-grab for more government graft to line their pockets. For a fraction of the promised regulation, they bring millions into their systems, with the likelihood that they will never have to compete on a level playing field that a public option would force.
Obama had the unions, but hey, Cadillac health plans are their bread-and-butter. Wouldn't want those cut out. So they back-stab the White House to keep their share.
Everyone wants change, so long as change does not affect them and their interests.
The White House put up a very reasonable, middle-of-the-road framework for change in a system where extremism on both sides has ruled since Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. The intent was to co-opt both sides of the political spectrum and the special interests by providing them a reasonable way forward.
Except that they did not want a reasonable way forward. They want gridlock, conflict, and the partisanship that they have known for decades. That did not change with Mr. Obama's election.
Jim DeMint called health care Mr. Obama's "Waterloo."
"Think about that," Obama responded in general to that type of comment. "This isn't about me. This isn't about politics. This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families. ... We can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care -- not this time, not now."
Taking the high road in a schoolhouse full of rowdy, partisan children, as is the U.S. Congress, would seem the sensible approach.
The problem is that the people pulling the strings of these congressmen and senators, the special interests who have run this country via their PACs and lobbying groups, continue their work.
Obama has few friends on K Street. He has enemies on both the Left and Right, as was evidenced by the disgusting display of partisanship over patriotism on the Nobel Award, which Mr. Obama did not lobby for in any way.
The strength of centrist politics is both its truth and its rudder adjusting sensibility. It is pulled, though, very hard by the same manipulating, self-serving groups on both sides of the political boat who would like nothing better than to capsize change.
Obama's challenges are not without precedent. Another visionary, Mahatma Gandhi said:
"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."
Even Gandhi's changes, while profound, were not as he had envisioned them. India was able to throw off its English masters, but it came unglued in strife between Hindus and Muslims, resulting in the modern India and Pakistan who point nuclear arms at each other and continue their civil war over the tiniest parcel left of disputed land, Kashmir.
What you win, then, as a centrist, is really a matter of how deft you are at crafting lasting compromises.
Both sides will hate you for it, but, in the end, if one or the other "wins" the day, it will be something that is reversed or watered-down by a subsequent administration from the other side.
The thing which the Obama administration has been unable to do is to master that level of co-option. They have tried to manipulate the puppets on Capitol Hill instead of the people pulling the strings.
They have also not called in some very large chits from Wall Street and the banking industry to get certain aspects of their agenda passed. These people owe the White House big time. Using the significant leverage that they hold over the insurance industry and even the health care industry may be Obama's only trump card.
Going it alone with the citizens of the United States was moving. Unfortunately, we don't rise up for policy discussions. We can't be bothered. That's why we elect people to Congress.
Unfortunately the people whom we elect don't represent us. The person we elected to the White House does, but he is unlikely to see the help of those who voted him in.
Instead they will listen to the news, be afraid, and take the pot-shots that the well-paid commercials and AM radio soapbox smears tell them to do.
We wanted change. We just do not seem, as a people, prepared to bust up the special interest system that runs Washington. Without that, I fear the forward movement of Mr. Obama's agenda will be left in the dustbin of historic good intentions.
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